Her Majesty's Coldstream Regiment of Foot Guards, also known officially as the Coldstream Guards, is the regular British Army's oldest regiment in continuous active service, founded in 1650.

Members of the Coldstream Guards are the ones which foreign visitors know and love when visiting London, standing guard outside places such as Buckingham Palace in their bright red tunics (the reason why Americans once called British soldiers "redcoats") and tall, black bearskin hats.

But their other, less well-known, claim to fame is that they are the world's oldest recording artists, despite what the residents of Chicago may claim. Now they are releasing a new album, called "Heroes."

The album is jam-packed full of great British military favourites such as The Dambusters, 633 Squadron and Where Eagles Dare.

The band of the Coldsteam Guards was formed in 1785 and its director of music is Lt Colonel Graham Jones.

The Band of the Coldstream Guards march into the pop charts

By Adam Sweeting
09 Dec 2009
The Telegraph

The Coldstream Guards fought in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815

The cover of their new album

The Band of the Coldstream Guards can claim to be the oldest recording artists in existence. Now they are expanding their extensive catalogue with a new album, Heroes.

The Band of the Coldstream Guards was at the Battle of Waterloo, celebrated the liberation of France in 1944 and played in New York’s Times Square in the aftermath of 9/11, but they’ve never had a chartbusting album before.

Heroes, their first release for Decca, has been shamelessly designed to stiffen the sinews and summon up the blood. It’s crammed with big, rousing themes including The Dambusters, 633 Squadron and Where Eagles Dare (the last two both written by Ron Goodwin, who learned all about military music when he spent his National Service in the Royal Artillery Band). The Fron Choir lend additional grandeur to Land of Hope and Glory.

“Permission for bottom lip to tremble, sir,” deadpans the Coldstream Band’s principal trombonist, Colour Sgt David Desmond, as we discuss the album’s heartstring-tugging impact in the office of their director of music, Lt Colonel Graham Jones. The band are based at the Wellington Barracks, a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace, where they provide music for the Changing of the Guard.

The Coldstream Guards during the Trooping the Colour

Jones theatrically signed the Decca contract on the parade ground outside, with his bandsmen arrayed behind him in full dress regalia and bearskin headgear.

“This has given us an opportunity to take this music we’re proud of to a wider audience so they can feel the great qualities it can bring,” says Jones. “The way these pieces are written makes the most of that big, epic sound. It’s inspirational and it’s stirring.”

The Coldstream Guards

The Coldstream Guards were formed in the town of Coldstream on the English-Scottish border in 1650. It is the regular British Army's oldest regiment in continuous active service. It is one of two regiments of the Household Division that can trace its lineage to Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, the other being the Blues and Royals (Royal Horse Guards and 1st Dragoons). Their nickname is 'Lilywhites'. An ordinary soldier of the regiment is called a Guardsman, a designation granted by King George V after the First World War. The Coldstream Guards wear a ceremonial uniform consisting of red tunics and tall Bearskin hats, beloved of tourists visiting London. Their ceremonial duties include the State Opening of Parliament, Trooping the Colour, and the Remembrance Sunday parade, but they also guard buildings such as Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London's Jewel House and do battle in wars, such as in Afghanistan recently. The Coldstream Guards took part in the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 and helped to liberate France in 1944. They are also the world's oldest recording artists. The Americans may claim that the Chicago Symphony Orchestra made the first orchestral recording in 1916 but the Coldstream Band recorded music in the previous decade, the playing of "Milanollo" during the 1908 Trooping the Colour.

Heritage and tradition are never far from the surface in a regiment as steeped in battle honours as the Coldstream Guards, and portraits of firm-jawed colonels and majors in an evolving range of uniforms gaze down from the walls of the officers’ mess.

However, their history hasn’t only involved warfare. They’ve patrolled the frontier of sound recording for more than 100 years, and can claim to be the oldest recording artists in existence. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra made the first orchestral recording in 1916 (Mendelssohn’s Wedding March), but the sound of the Coldstream Band had already been captured in the previous decade. Lt Col Jones himself has a copy of the band’s oldest known specimen, made on a wax cylinder while they were engaged in Trooping the Colour.

“I’ve got a 1908 recording, and it’s the earliest available,” he says. “It’s of the band playing Milanollo, which is the official march of the Coldstream Guards.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the original cylinder recording. It went for sale on eBay, but I wasn’t quick enough. However, I do have a conversion of it on CD.

We’ve recorded in every decade since 1908, and I would say we’re one of the most recorded bands in the world.”

Engagements which the Coldstream Guards have taken part in

English Civil War (Parliament VS Monarchy, 1641-1651)
Monmouth Rebellion (King James II VS anti-King James II rebels, 1685)
Seven Years' War (Britain and allies VS France and allies, 1756-1763)
American War of Independence (US and allies VS Britain and allies, 1775-1783)
Napoleonic Wars (France and allies VS Britain and allies, 1803-1815)
Crimean War (Britain and France VS Russia, 1853-1856)
Second Boer War (Britain VS Orange Free State, 1899-1902)
World War I (Entente Powers VS Central Powers, 1914-1918 )
World War II (Allies VS Germany, Japan and Italy, 1939-1945)
Malayan Emergency (Britain VS Malayan Communists, 1948-1960)
Mau Mau Uprising (Kenyan peasants VS Britain, 1952-1960)
Cyprus Emergency (Cypriot nationalists VS Britain, 1955-1960)
Gulf War (Allies VS Iraq, 1990-1991)
Bosnia (Nato, Bosnia and Croatia VS Serbia, 1992-1995)
Iraq War (Allies VS Al Qaeda etc, 2003-present [Britain's inolvement has ended] )
Afghanistan War (Nato VS Taliban, Al-Qaeda etc, 2001-present)

Another priceless artefact from the band’s archives is a cylinder recording of a recreation of the King’s Review of the Brigade of Guards, made in 1913. It features musical extracts, shouted commands and a narration by Lt Col John Mackenzie-Rogan, the Coldstreams’ bandmaster of the day.

Under Mackenzie-Rogan, the Coldstreams recorded copiously for the Gramophone Company, even accompanying such stalwart divas of the era as Clara Butt and Dame Nellie Melba.

Not that the Coldstream musicians are restricted to playing in the full-scale parade band. As flautist Lance-Sgt Darren Hardy explains: “Ever since the band was formed in 1785, there have been different ensembles within it. We have a brass quintet, a woodwind quintet, a fanfare team, a small salon orchestra and a dance band, and today we have a rock band and a jazz trio, too.”

Heroes isn’t the first time the band have recorded for Decca, either. They cut a number of 78s with the label during the 1950s, under then music director Lt Col Douglas Pope. These discs, along with hundreds of others, are stored at the Wellington Barracks, and capture the band running the gamut from military marches to highlights from the operas of Verdi or Meyerbeer, extracts from Gilbert & Sullivan and tunes from the shows, all rearranged for military wind band.

As recording technology advanced, the band moved on to LPs and, from the mid-Eighties, CDs. They made the great leap forward to the MP3 era when Decca made Heroes available to Coldstream guardsmen serving in Afghanistan, who could log on using their individual Army number and download the album.

Lt Col Jones aims to sustain the band’s musical lineage by having a composer in residence (it’s the only British Army band that has one), the current incumbent being Martin Ellerby, following on from Peter Graham and Nigel Hess.

“The Army used to commission composers such as Gustav Holst and Gordon Jacob,” says Jones, “and I’m a great believer that we should champion British music. If we don’t commission it, then we won’t have any. The music linked to the Coldstream Guards is now in the public domain around the world. Well, how good is that? It’s brilliant.”

Under Jones’ energetic baton, the Coldstream catalogue can only keep on expanding.

Last edited by Blackleaf; Dec 10th, 2009 at 02:10 PM..